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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Dorothy S. Grant papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1917-1998
Creator: Grant, Dorothy S. (1905-)
Extent: 7.50 linear feet.
Collection Number: IWA0150
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Unitarian Universalist and Head Start teacher, and spokesperson for victims of spousal abuse.

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to The University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 220) were donated by Dorothy S. Grant in 1994 and succeeding years.

Preferred Citation: Dorothy S. Grant papers, Iowa Women Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Dorothy Irene Sweet Grant, the daughter of Walter Ward Sweet and Nellie Nelson (Nelia Nilson) Sweet, was born on November 3, 1905 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In her abridged autobiography Grant described herself as a studious and shy child with a domineering mother. She was on the honor roll of her grade school and high school and she continued her education at Miss Wood's School for Early Childhood Education. In Osseo, Minnesota, she taught the first and second grades for four years before returning to Minneapolis to teach first grade at Miss Sterrett's private school for one year.

In Minneapolis Dorothy Sweet met a young botany graduate student from the University of Minnesota named Martin Lawrence Grant. They were married on March 26, 1930. Within seventeen months of their marriage the young couple had two of their three children. Dorothy Grant writes that her husband became physically abusive to their son Gordon six weeks after he was born and that abuse was also inflicted on their daughter Barbara Jean shortly after her birth.

Upon completion of Martin Grant's Ph.D. in 1936, the family moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa, where he took a teaching position at the Iowa State Teacher's College (now the University of Northern Iowa). Outwardly the family appeared normal but Martin Grant's pattern of abuse and philandering continued and he began physically battering Grant as well as the children. Domestic violence, verbal and physical, continued throughout the Grants' marriage and influenced the lives of Dorothy Grant and her children.

Grant became active in many civic groups in Cedar Falls, holding office in various organizations such as: American Association of University Women (AAUW) study group, Women's Club, Girl Scouts, Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) and others. In 1937 Grant joined the local Planned Parenthood organization and served as secretary on the board for seven years.

In 1950 the Grants and another couple started a Unitarian Fellowship in Cedar Falls. Grant said, "This organization changed my life considerably..." As a founding member she performed many duties: from attending state and regional conferences to starting a Sunday school in 1952. Grant used her skills as the archivist of the Cedar Falls Unitarian Universalist Society to author five manuals and booklets dealing with the local society and world religions. After forty-five years she resigned as the archivist in the spring of 1995.

Martin Grant's botanical research provided an opportunity for the family to travel and live all over the world. From September 1963 until the spring of 1965 Dorothy and Martin Grant lived in Iran. During all of Martin Grant's field trips Dorothy Grant was his unrecognized secretary and assistant, helping with all aspects of plant collection, preservation and mounting. These trips allowed Grant to indulge her social anthropological interests and study various world religions.

In 1967, after thirty-seven years of marriage, Dorothy Grant divorced her husband and began life on her own. Martin Grant died a year later and Grant's alimony payments stopped. Forced to reenter the work force at the age of sixty-two, she obtained a job at the Head Start program for young children for four years. Grant began as a substitute teacher but eventually rose to the position of Supervisor of Education. Grant later worked as head tester for a University of Northern Iowa (UNI) research program called Home Start that tested the development of two- to five-year-olds. When funding for the program ended Grant continued working part-time at the UNI Museum until she retired in 1975, at age seventy.

Since retirement Grant has kept busy with many activities including learning to use a computer in 1987 at the age of eighty-two. In her lifetime Grant has given over one thousand talks to various groups and continues doing so.

The Dorothy Grant papers date from 1917 to 1998 and measure 7.5 linear feet. The papers are arranged in five series: Personal life, Civic clubs and activities, Speeches, Travels, and Unitarian Universalism. The papers are comprised of the records Grant kept of her daily life and reflective narratives of her personal history, relationships with her family and memories of world travel. Grant was a meticulous records keeper and organizer. Most of the papers have been left in Dorothy Grant's arrangement.

Grant kept complete records of household expenses and income from 1932 to 1991. These household accounts provide information about household budgeting for sixty years from the Depression of the 1930s to the present. These account books represent only half of the Personal life series (1931-1998). Grant's fifty-one page abridged autobiography provides insight into Grant's life and, together with a set of videotapes, record her experience with domestic violence during her marriage. This series has Grant's complete autobiography and a collection ofvignettes that provide quick glimpses of different events in her life. The subseries entitled Children contains a chronological journal detailing the deterioration of the relationship between Grant and her youngest daughter, an apparent legacy of the family's history of abuse. The bracketed dates for needlepoint designs were provided by Grant.

Grant was involved in several activities outside the home. The Civic clubs and activities series (1967-1983) provides someinformation on three of the groups to which she belonged. Grant's talks give the histories of the Charles Eliot Club and Supper Club in Cedar Falls. As an early supporter of Planned Parenthood, Grant gave a five-minute UNI radio news interview discussing the beginning of Planned Parenthood in eastern Iowa. In 1993 she was honored at a state-wide program called, "Women Pioneers in Family Planning: An Evening in Recognition of Dorothy Grant," held at UNI.

The Speeches series (1982-1998) contains an index, organized both chronologically and topically, of all the speeches that Granthas given since 1923. The series contains a small sample of the talks Grant gave, including six speeches on thelife and writings of Ruth Suckow, an author from Cedar Falls.

Grant's experiences overseas are documented in the Travels series (1959-1994). The series contains travel logs and a map of Iran from the botanical collecting trips Grantparticipated in from 1963 to 1965. The description in the logs of the landscape and rough countryside gains credence from the shaky handwriting due to the bumpy roads.

The series also includes a narrative from a trip to Norway that Grant took in the summer of 1977 with the Sons of Norway, an organization of Norwegian descendants.

Grant's interest in anthropology and world religions is reflected in the Unitarian Universalism series (1952-1991). She used her travel experience to write manuals on world religions used by her local society and nationally. The newsletters in the series document Grant's involvement in the church and her various duties and responsibilities at the local, regional and national levels. In the written works subseries thereare two manuals which record the early history of Unitarianism and Universalism in Iowa and Black Hawk county.

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